An English literature professor (Ned Cooper) at an unnamed university is in a quandary. His daughter is coming to visit from New York to persuade him to call his estranged wife, and the Dean (Tullio Campanale) wants him to switch to teaching his wife’s best-selling book instead of his own. To third year students. A week before finals.
Well, there’s nothing realistic about this academic setup, and that lack of realism is followed through into the action that follows. At times the professor is played by all five cast members simultaneously, bouncing lines between them and performing complex physical manoeuvres as they explore his thoughts – thoughts which are frequently interrupted by the ringing of five old-fashioned rotary telephones. You remember the kind, with wires.
When the professor receives a call telling him his daughter has been kidnapped, he must race against time to beat the midnight deadline. He’s helped by sycophantic archaeology student Terry (Evangeline Dickson), but hindered by the groundsman (Hamish Lloyd Barnes) and the university newspaper’s editor (Genevieve Sabherwal). Further help comes in the form of the night class lecturer (Barnes again) who, it turns out, occupies his office when he isn’t in it.
Cue a lot of frantic action, consummately choreographed by Zak Nemorin, which generates energetic comedy without ever falling into farce. The masked ball scene, in particular, is a tour de force of physical theatre crammed into a tiny stage.
Ellie Roser’s intricate set consists of a door on wheels that serves both as a multi-part entrance and phone box, plus an ingenious desk that flips up to then become a blackboard and library. Oscar Maguire’s sound design keeps the action moving, combining sound effects and incidental music to good effect.
The script is fast-paced and generally entertaining, although the jokes could do with some further polish. As is often the case, the show would benefit from a 15-minute trim; but the action moves fast, and the denouement in the clock tower is revealing, dramatic, funny and thoroughly implausible.
This is a fun show from a young cast, who perform with vigour and enthusiasm and a good deal of physical exertion.
Producer: Spies Like Us
Director: Ollie Norton-Smith
Writers: Ollie Norton-Smith / Hamish Lloyd Barnes / Joe Large
Choreographer: Zak Nemorin
Set Designers: Ellie Roser with Zoe Hürwitz
Sound Designer: Oscar Maguire
Featured image: Harry Plowden
Speed Dial plays at The Pleasance until 12 March. Further information and booking via the below button.